Habit Formation and Becoming Fluent


In their book Becoming Fluent, the authors Richard Roberts and Roger Kreuz spend some time about what prevents people from reaching their goal of learning a foreign language before they get to the good stuff about what can actually HELP you reach that goal.

In the second chapter, after discussing the cognitive biases which hinder people from setting and achieving their language learning goals, the authors discuss three misconceptions people have about habit formation, something that is a necessity for learning a foreign language

1. Misconception:  it takes 21 days to develop a new habit

This concept was popularized by Maxwell Maltz, who published the book Psycho-Cybernetics in 1960.   Subsequent research showed that there is NO preordained timetable required to form a new habit.    A similar statistic is that it takes 10,000 hours of work to master a subject.

The problem with these certain-sounding pronouncements is that they focus on the quantity of time spent, rather than the quality.

If you’re going to develop a foreign language study habit, try to incorporate your target language into your life in a meaningful way as much as possible.   One particular way to do this is to take post-it notes with vocabulary words in your target language and attach them to objects in your home.   You won’t need to put the native language translation on the post-it note because the object itself is all the reference you need.

Then you take away the post-it notes and, once in a while take inventory of your surroundings and ask yourself what the word is in the target language of the first five objects you come across.   Can you recall what they are?    If so, you have started to remap your familiar world in the new language, and you are in the process remapping your brain.

So think more deeply about the language and incorporate it into the flow of your everyday life, and THAT will create a new habit, because it will keep you energized, rather than a meaningless habit that drains you of energy because it is mechanical and boring.

2.   Misconception #2:  Not keeping up a habit means failure

One thing is for sure, the best laid foreign-language plans often go awry because of this called life which gets in the way.  If you drop your habit, don’t engage in negative self-talk but spend that energy itself getting back into the habit.

In studying the way people quit smoking, one of the best predictors of whether people are ultimately successful in giving up smoking is the number of times they’ve managed to quit before.    The more that they have broken their non-smoking habit, the likelier they are to succeed in not smoking!     This is because for those that break the habit, they go right back to it and the mind gets gradually more used to the habit of not-smoking than it is to the past habit of smoking.

So if you miss instead of hit, don’t quit–just get on with it!

3.   More study is better than less study

The authors refer to the charmingly named fertilizer fallacy:   if a little bit of stuff is good, then a lot of it is better.    No, just like medicines, you need the right dose taken at the right intervals (that’s why those instructions come on medicine bottles, to prevent an overdose).

It’s better to do 10-15 minutes of study a day rather than trying to cram a couple of hours study on the weekend.   This is why you need to carve time out of your schedule to do language practice on a daily basis.

These three habit-formation misconceptions are the last piece of negative advice the authors give in terms of what NOT to do.

The next part gets to the meat of the chapter, which is 4 positive suggestions that will HELP you on your quest to learn another language–these are the subject of the next post!

 

 

Cognitive Biases that Prevent you from Becoming Fluent


I’ve been reading the book Becoming Fluent by Richard Roberts and Roger Kreutz, about how cognitive science can help adults learn a foreign language.   I am keenly interested in this topic because I have studied several foreign languages and am trying to retain my fluency in them at the same time I am trying to learn new ones, and I realize this will require “upping my game” in terms of the efficiency and effectiveness I learn.

In the second chapter, “Set Yourself Up for Success”, the authors go about the topic in an indirect fashion.   What are the cognitive biases that sometimes set adults up for failure rather than success?    Here are some of the cognitive biases they have uncovered.

1. The availability heuristic–an example of when heuristics fail

The availability heuristic is when examples of a phenomenon can be generated mentally and are thus more quickly and easily available to the conscious mind, the more common the phenomenon is likely to be.   Which is more common as a name for a baby girl in the United States:   Mary or Matilda?    Since most people can think of more people named Mary than they can named Matilda, they would be correct in assuming that Mary is indeed the more common name for baby girls in the United States.

However, when are people more likely to buy earthquake or flood insurance?   Immediately after such an event, when the likelihood of a such an extreme event happening again is very small.    As people’s memory of the earthquake or flood fades, they are less and less likely to buy such insurance, when in reality, the likelihood of such an event occurring is only going to rise.

So, lesson #1 from cognitive science is that heuristics based on an examination of one’s mind or memory are not foolproof.

2. The simulation heuristic–another heuristic that can fail

The simulation heuristic is when the more quickly and easily you can create a mental scenario in which an event occurs, the more likely you will be to predict that the event will occur.   If you create a mental simulation about all the things that it would take for you to become president, the more things that would have to happen for you to become president (being elected at the city, state, and national level, for example), the less likely the outcome will seem to you.

What is happening is that you access your memory for relevant information.   The information must be accessed and then judged as to how relevant it is to the particular scenario.   Then experiences you have had in the past that match the present scenario will add to your confidence.

Let me give an example form Toastmasters.  The very first time I went to a semi-annual conference, I had been in Toastmasters a total of 3 or 4 months.   I saw the keynote speaker, thought he was really inspirational, but it didn’t cross my mind that someday I myself could become a professional speaker.     I knew so little about being a professional speaker, that I couldn’t even tell you what steps I would need to become one.

Compare that to a keynote speaker I saw at an event last Sunday.    His message was inspirational, but this time I realized part of me was speculating, “what if I could do what he is doing and be a professional speaker myself?”    Now if you ask me “how do you become a professional speaker” I can say more about it because I am in a Toastmasters club that is designed specifically for aspiring professional speakers called the Windy City Professional Speakers club.   I can tell you what you need to become a professional speaker and many of those prerequisites I have already achieved.   So the possibility of becoming a professional speaker is not so remote; it still seems off in the distance, but I can picture how to get there.

3.  Planning Fallacy

The planning fallacy is when we underestimate how much time, effort, or money it will take to accomplish a goal.   It happens when we focus too much on the good things that will happen when we achieve a goal (like when foreign language programs advertise their wares by showing somebody flirting with an attractive speaker of the native language) and not enough on the resources it will take for us to achieve that goal.

In mental simulation of reaching a goal, focusing on the process of what it will take to achieve a goal results in better planning than focusing on the outcome.   You need to have in your language plan exactly how long you plan to study each day, what method you will use, and how you plan to chart your progress.

Another reason for the planning fallacy is the tendency to be overly optimistic about the outcome of events, assuming in other words that everything will go exactly as planned, and that nothing will go wrong.

When learning a foreign language, you need to count on when things don’t go as planned, such as when you make a mistake during a conversation.

4.  Counterfactual thinking

What happens when you make a mistake during a conversation, or you don’t make one of your milestones because you aren’t progressing as quickly as you have planned.   People start to beat themselves up by using counterfactual simulation, which is when you do a mental simulation after the fact and focus on what might have been.   In the sphere of foreign language learning, if you fail temporarily at achieving your goal, or the goal takes more effort that you originally thought it would,  you may tend to emphasize problems with your own abilities (“I’m just no good at languages”) rather than focusing on your methods (“I’m not as effective as I feel I should be when I’m using this method”).

5.  Anchoring and adjustment

Anchoring and adjustment is when it is difficult for us to move very far away from what we have initially decided–even when the reality of the situation necessitates a change in plans.   For adults language learners, an example of this is slavishly following a preset lesson plan long after it becomes clear that it is not very effective.   This is why a language study buddy is helpful, because it is easier hearing from another person the advice that you find difficult to give yourself, to try another method that may be more effective.

6.  Confirmation bias

Confirmation bias happens when people filter out information that goes against their preconceived notions and only accept information that reinforces them.   It makes it harder to accept feedback from others, for example, the advice to change the language learning method you are using.

And in learning a foreign language in general, if you are convinced of the first myth of language learning that was discussed in the last post, namely, that Adults cannot acquire a foreign language as easily as children, then you will pay attention to those people that say they tried learning a language, but can’t speak it any more.   But when they see someone like Benny Lewis, a multilingual guy from Ireland, who puts out a blog “Fluent In 3 Months”, they will ignore a claim like that because, well, it can’t possibly be true, can it?  (I’m here to say it is true, and I attribute much of my current multilingual success to his methods.)

7.  Hindsight bias

Hindsight bias is when you look back at failure and say you knew all along that it would occur.    How it effects foreign language learners in adulthood is that they blame themselves or their teachers for their failure, most likely themselves (“I’m just no good at foreign languages”).   What if, unbeknownst to you, you ARE good at foreign languages, but just need the right methods to unlock that potential?

If you take a look at these cognitive biases, they have one thing in common with regards to foreign language learning in adulthood–you need to focus on the decision-making process when you start learning a language and use the knowledge that cognitive science now affords us so that you are working WITH how your brain more naturally works rather than AGAINST it.

It’s like the story of the ant and the elephant told by Vince Poscente in his book with that title.   An ant is in the desert and senses that the oasis he seeks is to the east, and makes the wise decision to go in that direction.   However, an owl swoops down and gives him some advice:    the ant may THINK it is going towards the east, but unbeknownst to the ant, he is sitting on an elephant that is currently going towards the WEST.   Unless the ant can figure out how to get the elephant to change direction, the ant will never achieve his goal of getting to the oasis.

In a similar way, we may WANT to achieve the desired goal of becoming fluent in another foreign language, but if our methods are like a stubborn elephant that is taking us in the opposite direction, we will never achieve our goal.   So the goal of the book Becoming Fluent is to teach us how to work with the elephant, i.e., the human brain, to get it going towards our goal in the most effective and efficient manner!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Myths about Foreign Language Learning


I am a multilingual project manager and have been interested in foreign languages and cultures all of my life.   Recently I bought the book Becoming Fluent by Richard Roberts and Roger Kreuz.  They describe evidence gained from recent research in psychology and cognitive science that points to the conclusion that adults can learn new languages even more easily than children.

This goes against the accepted wisdom that children are better language learners than adults.   I find their conclusions very encouraging for those wanting to learn a new language or those like me who are trying to retain fluency in the languages we already know while simultaneously attempting to learn newer ones.

Now, there are two advantages that children have compared to adults when it comes to learning foreign languages.   First, they acquire a foreign accent more readily than adults do.   And secondly, they do suffer from the anxiety that adults sometimes do which can end up being self-defeating.    Besides being a foreign language aficionado, I am also a five-year member of the Toastmasters club that trains people in public speaking.   I have found that the fear adults have of public speaking is related to the anxiety they have of learning a foreign language.    So I am well acquainted with that comparative disadvantage that adults have when it comes to communication, either with regards to their own native language in public settings, or with regards to foreign languages.

But the authors maintain that the advantages adults have outweigh these two disadvantages.   However, these go against the “common wisdom” mentioned above, so before discussing these advantages, the authors discussed three common myths people have about foreign language learning in adults.

Myth 1:  Adults cannot acquire a foreign language as easily as children.

Except for the one subset of language skills relating to acquiring a native accent, which children have an advantage in, adults are capable of achieving native-like fluency at a faster rate than children do.    This is because of some cognitive skills that adults have that children do not.

Myth 2:  Adults should learn foreign languages the way children learn languages.

The fact that exposes the fallacy behind this myth is that the brains of adults and children are different.   So learning languages the same way is not possible, let alone recommended.   A more fruitful approach to language learning is one that builds on the cognitive strengths that adults do have.

Myth 3:  When learning a foreign language, try not to use your first language.

Some adult language learners are told that they should try from the start to not translate from their native language to the new, target language but to understand it directly.   Although direct understanding of the new language is the goal, using the knowledge of one’s native language as a ladder to reach the new floor of a new language is an advantage. A simple example is the use of cognate words, which can be a surprising doorway to hundreds and sometimes even thousands of vocabulary words in the new language.

Yes, there are words that will appear similar in form but end up being different in meaning (the “faux amix” I learned while studying French, for example), but the number of these will be relatively small compared to the number of words that ARE similar in meaning.

The evidence that contradict these myths comes from a field of cognitive science, which the authors have studied in connection with the cognitive abilities needed to learn a new language.   I am looking forward to reading the rest of Becoming Fluent, and using its recommendations to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of my language learning.   I recommend it for anybody who is planning on learning a new foreign language, or who has learned one in the past and wants to regain that fluency.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Multilingual Language Plan–June 2016


In March, I went to a local bookstore and got Benny Lewis’ book Fluent in 3 Months.   One of his first recommendations for learning multiple languages at the same time is to make concrete goals for each of the languages you intend to focus on.

So I wrote down a multilingual learning plan, which I intend to review every month.    The purpose of today’s post is to review the last month’s plan and improve upon it in drawing up a plan for the month of June and July.

  1. Multilingual language goals–Long-term

I am fluent in five foreign languages if you measure that fluency in terms of B1 level or higher on the Common European Language Framework.

So for those five languages, I have put my goal to become one level higher by 2017.

For the languages I have been studying but which I have not achieved fluency, I am also putting my goal to become one level higher by 2017.

For those languages I have not studied before, but which I want to study in 2016, I’m putting the target as BEGINNER (A1).

Level Goal Language
C2–Mastery
C1–Advanced Japanese, French
B2—Upper Intermediate Chinese, German, Spanish
B1–Intermediate Italian, Portuguese
A2–Elementary Arabic
A1–Beginner Korean, Dutch, Hindi, Irish

Although I put all languages on my level goal list, certain languages have higher priority level, which translates into studying frequency.   Also, although my ultimate goal is to speak with native speakers, my intermediate goal  is to use textbooks in order to prepare for proficiency tests.

2.  Multilingual goals–method, priority level

Language Goal (Test/Textbook) Priority
Japanese JLPT N2, Tobira High
French DALF C1/C2 Medium
Chinese HSK 4, eChineseLearning (online lessons) High
German ZDfB (B2) Medium
Spanish DELE B2, AP Spanish Medium
Italian Italian Now Medium
Portuguese Portugues Actual Medium
Arabic Mastering Arabic, Rosetta Stone Level 3 Low
Korean Integrated Korean Beginning 1 Low
Dutch Living Language Beginner Low
Hindi Beginning Hindi, Rosetta Stone Level 1 Low
Irish Living Language Essential Low
Vietnamese Elementary Vietnamese Low

3.   Multilingual goals–May 016 (review)

Here were my goals for the past month..

Language Goal (Test/Textbook)
Japanese Kanji Kentei review level 9–still working on level 9!!
French Start review of Foreign Service Institute French course level 1, units 1 and 2–now on unit 2
Chinese–DONE Finished 2x/week Skype lesson with eChineseLearning, HSK 4 listening comprehension test #2 prep, will now switch to Intermediate Spoken Chinese and Intermediate Written Chinese textbooks
German Duolingo (complete entire skill tree)–completed up to level 6 out of 8, start Foreign Service Institute German course level 1
Spanish Start review of Foreign Service Institute Spanish course level 1, units 1 and 2–now on unit 2
Italian None
Portuguese None
Arabic Mastering Arabic ch. 2, 3–only completed ch. 1
Korean Integrated Korean Beginning 1 (reading Hangul)–haven’t completed Hangul
Dutch NONE
Hindi Finished Pimsleur Hindi course units 1 and 2
Irish NONE
Vietnamese NONE

Well, I can tell you I didn’t accomplish very many language goals in April.   I did complete my three-month course of language learning at eChineseLearning, but the other goals I only partially completed.

But here’s why I’m putting these goals on my blog–because my failure to achieve them is public, it makes me want to rededicate myself to the goals of May.

Let’s see what I accomplish in the month of May!

Language Goal (Test/Textbook)
Japanese Kanji review level 9 (grade school level 2)
French Duolingo (refresh skill tree)–start DALF training (C1/C2)
Chinese Intermediate Spoken Chinese Unit 1
German Duolingo (complete entire skill tree), Foreign Service Institute Course
Spanish Duolingo (refresh skill tree)–start AP Spanish (C1)
Italian Start Italian Now
Portuguese Start Portuguese Grammar
Arabic Mastering Arabic ch. 2, Rosetta Stone Level 1 review
Korean Integrated Korean Beginning 1 (reading Hangul)
Dutch None
Hindi Pimsleur Hindi Course units 3-10, Beginning Hindi (reading Hindi script)
Irish Living Language Essential ch. 1
Vietnamese Elementary Vietnamese Pronunciation Guide

Here’s how I will improve my language plan for June.

a.  High-priority languages–after completing a three month Skype course in Chinese, I need review of some basic conversational patterns.   I got a textbook Intermediate Spoken Chinese from Tuttle Publishing which does exactly that.   What I like is that the conversations are recorded so that you can take the part of one person in the dialog at a time to really see if you can speak Chinese not just correctly, but at a conversational pace.

For Japanese, I found that the first step of the  review I can do for the JLPT N2 level exam is to review the Kanji and vocabulary for levels N5, N4, and N3.  In turn, the way to do this is to go through the elementary school Kanji grades 1 through 6, which means in terms of the Kanji Kentei (the Japanese Kanji Proficiency test aimed at native Japanese) to review levels 10 through 5.   This month I reviewed level 9 (grade school 2) by going all of the readings in a workbook and putting them on flash cards.   However, each grade there are more and more Kanji so, although I could finish all the level 10 Kanji in a month in March, I wasn’t able to do the same for the level 9 Kanji in April.    I’m practicing my Japanese listening skills by watching the NHK historical drama Ryomaden on Drama Fever.

b.  Medium-priority languages–I finished the skill trees for Spanish and French on Duolingo and am reviewing those languages now by listening to the Foreign Service Institute’s courses for Spanish and French.

I’m starting the 7th level of the German skill tree.   I aim to be done by the month of July.  It works well to concentrate on completing one skill tree at a time while periodically reviewing the ones I’ve already completed.    So I’ll complete the German skill tree before I start on Italian and Portuguese.

c. Low-priority languages–I was WAY too ambitious by listing all of the languages.   I started Arabic using a great textbook Mastering Arabic Vol. 1, but need to continue with Chapter 2.    I found that textbook is way better than the one I had been using before.   Korean and Hindi have different writing systems which I need to master before studying the languages in more depth.

d. Metalanguage–I found that Benny Lewis’ book Fluent in 3 Months was a great motivator for my language studies.  I’ve decided to get an online subscription to his Fluent in 3 Months website in order to go into more depth the principles that were in his book.   The first section is on Language Hacking, using tips and tricks to accelerate my language study of any language I’m studying

Let’s see what I accomplish in the month of June and July!

Saying Goodbye–On Father’s Day


At our service this morning, a fellow member of the congregation Leanne Roth gave a sermon on “Saying Goodbye” for Father’s Day.   Her father passed away last year, and the sermon was how she reconciled with him during his lifetime after a difficult relationship she had with him as a child.    He was a military father, and his profession made him, in her young eyes, strict and overbearing.    He divorced from her mother when she was a teenager and Leanne lost contact with him until her mother passed away.

When she passed away, her father contacted her and they began a slow reconciliation that took place over years.   By the time he moved into a retirement home, they spoke everyday on the phone.   When he needed to go into an assisted living facility when he grew more frail, she insisted he move near her so she could take care of him.   They grew together throughout their lives through a frank reassessment of his relationship with her as a child, and his passing last year was sad for her, of course, but she felt at peace because she had in effect been saying goodbye to him constantly in the last year of his life in the process of taking  care of him.

When she finished her talk, as her worship assistant, I took the opportunity to let her know that her memory had sparked a memory of my own that occurred to me.   You see, my father passed away last year as well.    I came back from Los Angeles to Chicago in 2013 in response to his request for assistance after he had a mild stroke following an exploratory procedure prior to a proposed heart valve surgery.    He went to a rehab facility, and I visited him every day until he was released.   I decided to stay in the Chicago area with my father, and I took it upon myself to be his “turn-down service” in the evening, helping putting him to bed after his caregiver left for the evening.

In the two years after that, our relationship deepened in the same way that Leanne had described with her father, except in my case my relationship was already close with my father when I was child.    But her story did remind me of when I said goodbye to my own father just before he passed away..

It was the end of September 2015 last year, when my father complained of pains in his side which my sister (who is a physician) suspected were due to his gall bladder.    His own doctor concurred, and had him sent to the hospital.   They determined that he needed to have gall bladder surgery.   Although it was going to be a less invasive form of surgery called laparoscopy rather than the way such surgery used to be done, it was still going to be dangerous for an 89-year-old man to undergo.    They scheduled his surgery for a Monday, and I came to the hospital on Saturday to comfort him.

His caregiver Lacola said that they were giving him something for the pain, but his biggest problem was … boredom.    Laying there waiting for surgery for two years under slight sedation dulled the pain, but didn’t dull his mind.    He complained that the hospital TV didn’t get any of the international channels that he enjoyed at home.    I suddenly got a thought that, since his first career was a newspaper reporter, he might appreciate a newspaper to read.   When I suggested I go downstairs and get one from the gift shop, his eyes lit up and I saw a slight smile cross his face.    And then, he did something extraordinary:   he sat up in bed, adjusted his glasses, and looked over them to me as he said in an aristocratic manner, “I’ll remember you in the will.”    His caregiver rolled her eyes at his making a joke at a time like this, but I knew that this was his way of thanking me.

I decided to play along with “aristocratic” role he was jokingly playing, and went and got a newspaper from the gift shop.   On returning to the room, I asked a nurse’s aide for a tray, and I placed the newspaper on the tray and brought it in to him with the air of a servant bringing something to his master.   I saw a twinkle in his eye as he appreciated my playing along with his jest.

That was the last time I saw him alive–the next morning as I left church and prepared to see him at the hospital, my sister called and said the hospital just contacted her to tell her our father had just passed away.   When I went to the hospital, I said goodbye to him, but somewhere in my mind I realized I had been saying goodbye to him in effect the past few years of his life.    This was why although I was sad at his passing, I felt at peace like Leanne did,  because I didn’t take his presence for granted and had constant contact with him.    I appreciated that, even though his body was weaker than it was when he was younger, his curiosity and his sense of humor were intact to the very day he died.    In our last meeting, he showed that he loved telling a joke for its own sake, but if others played together with him in the telling, he appreciated it so much more.    With that memory, my seeing his body in the hospital was not as much of a shock.

I saw him, lying there peacefully as if he would get up any moment to say “where the hell are my reading glasses?”, and instead of thinking about the loss of him no longer being here, I thought of what the nurse had said.    She was taking care of the patient in the next bed, when she heard my dad cry out.   As she parted the curtain, she saw my dad reaching out, crying my mother’s name and then … his eyes rolled up and he dropped back down in his bed–and was gone.

I thought of his reuniting with her and telling her jokes which she still didn’t get.   And I felt at peace.

So my advice to you all whose fathers are still alive is … don’t be like the man in the song “The Cat’s Cradle” by Harry Chapin.   Make time for him, even if it is a weekly phone call.   Your relationship with him will not end when he passes away, but your ability to improve that relationship will.    Take the opportunity now–while you can!

Transitioning and Scaling Innovation


In his book “Collective Disruption:   How Corporations & Startups Can Co-Create Transformative New Businesses,’ Michael Docherty lays out a vision of how established companies can create a strategy for innovation that includes partnering with startups, thereby enabling an “innovation ecosystem.”   This post is the eighth of ten reviewing the various chapters of his book in preparation for the Leadership Forum 2016 event put on by the Chicagoland chapter of the Project Management Institute on May 20th, 2016.

In the first part of his book , Michael explains the reason why open innovation is the recipe for creating innovation that is truly transformative, rather than just maintaining or expanding the core business.   In the second part of his book, he lays out his prescription for “collective disruption” as a way to achieve that open innovation ecosystem.

In the sixth chapter, Michael laid out the four phases of the collective disruption process:

  1. DISCOVER:  identify transformational opportunities relevant to your business.  Bring with a customer focus and then identify the key players and the networks.   You need to provide seed funding and resources for these activities.
  2. DEFINE:   define opportunities for an initial business opportunity through an iterative process, and use assessments to decide whether to explore these opportunities further or drop them.
  3. INCUBATE:    Apply a modified version of lean methodology which can be done in one of three ways–1) inside-in (integrated), 2) inside-out (accelerators), 3) outside-in (imbedded entrepreneurs).
  4. INTEGRATE:   Design new teams and structures that are both separate from and connected to the corporation.    These teams need to be separated to allow them to operate outside of the tight financial control of the current business, but they also need to be connected so that they eventually be absorbed into the existing corporate framework or spun off as something entirely new.

In the ninth chapter of the book, he discusses the INTEGRATE phase of the collective disruption process.

Let’s say you’ve gone through the discover phase and have a particular customer focus, and in the define phase have specified an initial business opportunity.   This chapter details how to take great new business ideas that have emerged in the define phase and to nurture and develop them.   Some of the lessons learned from unsuccessful attempts are as follows:

  1. Senior-level corporate visibility and support are keys to success.    In creating a new product which may disrupt the market, you may face internal corporate “antibodies” who see it as a threat to their own security and jobs.
  2. A degree of autonomy and separation is required for incubation of new ventures.
  3. Incentives and reward systems will need to be different from those of the core business units.

With those caveats, Michael then talks about three way to structure the incubation phase.

  1. Inside-in (integrated):   This model incubates ventures within the core business structure while engaging external partners.    Within this model are a spectrum of options, from dedicated internal groups to complete distributed models where new business incubation is managed directly within the business units.   Most companies do the former than the latter, with 3M being a notable exception.
  2. Inside-out (accelerator):   This model uses corporate accelerators or corporate tie-ins to existing startup accelerators.   It can create a simple and efficient business model, but Michael does not recommend it if you want more than a typical 120-day incubation program.
  3. Outside-in (imbedded entrepreneurs):   This model imbeds external partners and entrepreneurs into existing corporate structures.   This model is difficult to pull off I you don’t have the right entrepreneur who can navigate the corporate landscape.

Which model should you choose?   First of all, understand they are not mutually exclusive.   You can try one out and see if it fits your situation.

Now let’s assume that you have the organizational model for the incubation phase.   How do you actually go about doing it?   He recommends a lean approach, where you build early versions of the product from the perspective of the absolute minimum needed rather than the traditional approach of providing many bells and whistles, which apply to smaller and smaller subsets of your potential customer base.   This is termed a minimum viable product or MVP.    This is most easily understood in the software area.    By structuring experimentation as a series of learning experiments, this will drive the learning objectives of this incubation phase.

Let’s say you come up with an MVP that a) addresses a true unmet customer need, 2) is an innovative, unique solution, and 3) answers a marketplace opportunity in terms of timing, price point, business model, etc.   How do you scale up your solution for the mass market?   That is the subject of the NEXT chapter  on the INTEGRATE phase of the collective disruption process, and is the subject of the next post.

 

 

 

Evolving and Accelerating Incubation


In his book “Collective Disruption:   How Corporations & Startups Can Co-Create Transformative New Businesses,’ Michael Docherty lays out a vision of how established companies can create a strategy for innovation that includes partnering with startups, thereby enabling an “innovation ecosystem.”   This post is the eighth of ten reviewing the various chapters of his book in preparation for the Leadership Forum 2016 event put on by the Chicagoland chapter of the Project Management Institute on May 20th, 2016.

In the first part of his book , Michael explains the reason why open innovation is the recipe for creating innovation that is truly transformative, rather than just maintaining or expanding the core business.   In the second part of his book, he lays out his prescription for “collective disruption” as a way to achieve that open innovation ecosystem.

In the sixth chapter, Michael laid out the four phases of the collective disruption process:

  1. DISCOVER:  identify transformational opportunities relevant to your business.  Bring with a customer focus and then identify the key players and the networks.   You need to provide seed funding and resources for these activities.
  2. DEFINE:   define opportunities for an initial business opportunity through an iterative process, and use assessments to decide whether to explore these opportunities further or drop them.
  3. INCUBATE:    Apply a modified version of lean methodology which can be done in one of three ways–1) inside-in (integrated), 2) inside-out (accelerators), 3) outside-in (imbedded entrepreneurs).
  4. INTEGRATE:   Design new teams and structures that are both separate from and connected to the corporation.    These teams need to be separated to allow them to operate outside of the tight financial control of the current business, but they also need to be connected so that they eventually be absorbed into the existing corporate framework or spun off as something entirely new.

This is the eighth chapter of the book, which discusses the INCUBATE phase of the collective disruption process.

Let’s say you’ve gone through the discover phase and have a particular customer focus, and in the define phase have specified an initial business opportunity.   This chapter details how to take great new business ideas that have emerged in the define phase and to nurture and develop them.   Some of the lessons learned from unsuccessful attempts are as follows:

  1. Senior-level corporate visibility and support are keys to success.    In creating a new product which may disrupt the market, you may face internal corporate “antibodies” who see it as a threat to their own security and jobs.
  2. A degree of autonomy and separation is required for incubation of new ventures.
  3. Incentives and reward systems will need to be different from those of the core business units.

With those caveats, Michael then talks about three way to structure the incubation phase.

  1. Inside-in (integrated):   This model incubates ventures within the core business structure while engaging external partners.    Within this model are a spectrum of options, from dedicated internal groups to complete distributed models where new business incubation is managed directly within the business units.   Most companies do the former than the latter, with 3M being a notable exception.
  2. Inside-out (accelerator):   This model uses corporate accelerators or corporate tie-ins to existing startup accelerators.   It can create a simple and efficient business model, but Michael does not recommend it if you want more than a typical 120-day incubation program.
  3. Outside-in (imbedded entrepreneurs):   This model imbeds external partners and entrepreneurs into existing corporate structures.   This model is difficult to pull off I you don’t have the right entrepreneur who can navigate the corporate landscape.

Which model should you choose?   First of all, understand they are not mutually exclusive.   You can try one out and see if it fits your situation.

Now let’s assume that you have the organizational model for the incubation phase.   How do you actually go about doing it?   He recommends a lean approach, where you build early versions of the product from the perspective of the absolute minimum needed rather than the traditional approach of providing many bells and whistles, which apply to smaller and smaller subsets of your potential customer base.   This is termed a minimum viable product or MVP.    This is most easily understood in the software area.    By structuring experimentation as a series of learning experiments, this will drive the learning objectives of this incubation phase.

Let’s say you come up with an MVP that a) addresses a true unmet customer need, 2) is an innovative, unique solution, and 3) answers a marketplace opportunity in terms of timing, price point, business model, etc.   How do you scale up your solution for the mass market?   That is the subject of the NEXT chapter  on the INTEGRATE phase of the collective disruption process, and is the subject of the next post.

 

 

 

Opportunities and Business Models for Innovation


companies can create a strategy for innovation that includes partnering with startups, thereby enabling an “innovation ecosystem.”   This post is the seventh of ten reviewing the various chapters of his book in preparation for the Leadership Forum 2016 event put on by the Chicagoland chapter of the Project Management Institute on May 20th, 2016.

In the first part of his book , Michael explains the reason why open innovation is the recipe for creating innovation that is truly transformative, rather than just maintaining or expanding the core business.   In the second part of his book, he lays out his prescription for “collective disruption” as a way to achieve that open innovation ecosystem.

In the last chapter, Michael laid out the four phases of the collective disruption process:

  1. DISCOVER:  identify transformational opportunities relevant to your business.  Bring with a customer focus and then identify the key players and the networks.   You need to provide seed funding and resources for these activities.
  2. DEFINE:   define opportunities for an initial business opportunity through an iterative process, and use assessments to decide whether to explore these opportunities further or drop them.
  3. INCUBATE:    Apply a modified version of lean methodology which can be done in one of three ways–1) inside-in (integrated), 2) inside-out (accelerators), 3) outside-in (imbedded entrepreneurs).
  4. INTEGRATE:   Design new teams and structures that are both separate from and connected to the corporation.    These teams need to be separated to allow them to operate outside of the tight financial control of the current business, but they also need to be connected so that they eventually be absorbed into the existing corporate framework or spun off as something entirely new.

This is the seventh chapter of the book, which discusses the DEFINE phase of the collective disruption process.

When you want to create new sources of revenue growth, this almost always entails business model innovation.   Too much attention can be focused in the beginning of a collective disruption partnership on the relationship at the expense of a focus on external market opportunity.   Rather than hammering out agreements about who gets what, you need to start out with the external perspective of “what does the customer get?”

Here is Michael’s blueprint for managing I/P (the “who gets what” question) in such a partnership.

  1. Begin with non-confidential discussions.
  2. Proceed to nondisclosure agreements for initial discussions
  3. Move to teaming agreements that enable external exploration in the market; address existing I/P and sharing of limited new I/P creation
  4. Finally, move to co-development and option agreements and complete I/P rights for co-development AFTER companies have progressed through step 1 through 4

Now, with the “who gets what?” question out of the way, it’s time to move on to the question of “what does the customer get?”, or the creation of a business model.   Here are the phases that Michael recommends to go through here.

Step 0.  Before beginning the business model mapping effort, ensure that the venture has the following:

  • a clearly defined vision
  • measures of success
  • constraints
  • the needs of each party.

Step 1:  Identify strategic levers,  i.e., variables at your disposal for bringing a big idea to market, which are relevant to the venture.   These are the columns of the framework.   Here are some examples of such strategic levers:

  • Customer target
  • Customer problem
  • Value proposition
  • Offering(s)
  • Revenue model(s)
  • Cost model (s)
  • Distribution
  • Partnering approach

Step 2.   Identify a realistic menu of options for each strategic lever that the venture could potentially explore or pursue.   You may add to this venue later as you begin to develop strategy options.

Step 3.  Map the default strategy.   Document it right up front; this will give you a base to compare other options you may explore later.

Step 4.  This is a “mixing-and-matching exercise”.    Pick a column.  For each menu choice under that column, use that item as the “stake in the ground” for that strategy option.  Have the group develop one or more strategies that are choices from the other columns that are a logical and coherent set of choices that support that strategy option.

Step 5.  Iterate on the process above.   Creative and yet internally coherent strategies will gradually emerge.   Start broad and fast and then go back and deselect those options that don’t pass the commonsense test, and then combine and redefine some of the more promising options which have surfaced.

Step 6.  Develop a business model summary statement for the most promising of the options which have surfaced.   The core elements of each strategy summary should include:

  • Description of the strategy (target, offerings, etc.)
  • Rationale
  • Rough financial estimates (size of the potential revenue “prize”)
  • Risks/uncertainties

Step 7.   Define which specific learning objectives can reduce risk.   Conduct limited-scope experiments to test your hypotheses around customer need, product/market fit, partnering approach, and related objectives.

These steps should be iterated until you have a promising direction that is worth moving to the next phase of development.   This is the “INCUBATE” phase, which is covered in chapter 8 and in the next post.

For examples of this business model concept map in action, please refer to chapter 7 of Michael Docherty’s book “Collective Disruption.”

Engage the Innovation Ecosystem


In his book “Collective Disruption:   How Corporations & Startups Can Co-Create Transformative New Businesses,’ Michael Docherty lays out a vision of how established companies can create a strategy for innovation that includes partnering with startups, thereby enabling an “innovation ecosystem.”   This post is the fourth of ten reviewing the various chapters of his book in preparation for the Leadership Forum 2016 event put on by the Chicagoland chapter of the Project Management Institute on May 20th, 2016.

In the first part of his book , Michael explains the reason why open innovation is the recipe for creating innovation that is truly transformative, rather than just maintaining or expanding the core business.   In the second part of his book, he lays out his prescription for “collective disruption” as a way to achieve that open innovation ecosystem.

In the last chapter, Michael laid out the four phases of the collective disruption process:

  1. DISCOVER:  identify transformational opportunities relevant to your business.  Bring with a customer focus and then identify the key players and the networks.   You need to provide seed funding and resources for these activities.
  2. DEFINE:   define opportunities for an initial business opportunity through an iterative process, and use assessments to decide whether to explore these opportunities further or drop them.
  3. INCUBATE:    Apply a modified version of lean methodology which can be done in one of three ways–1) inside-in (integrated), 2) inside-out (accelerators), 3) outside-in (imbedded entrepreneurs).
  4. INTEGRATE:   Design new teams and structures that are both separate from and connected to the corporation.    These teams need to be separated to allow them to operate outside of the tight financial control of the current business, but they also need to be connected so that they eventually be absorbed into the existing corporate framework or spun off as something entirely new.

This post covers the sixth chapter, which covers the DISCOVER phase of the collective disruption process.

The first key step is to be clear on your goals.   Why are you looking for and what are your partners looking for?    However, you cannot settle on detailed plans and objectives based on some preconceived notion of what you’re trying to create.

To illustrate this point, let me relate the story told in Douglas Adams’ book The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.    In the story, a group of executives who want to assist a new colony in space to organize their society get on a spaceship headed towards that colony.   Unfortunately for them, their ship gets sucked into a wormhole that takes them back to prehistoric Earth in the time of the cavemen.   Undaunted by this setback, the executives decide they are going to use their advanced technology to jumpstart the technology of these primitive people by teaching them innovations such as fire, the wheel, etc.  But their project gets off on a rocky start, because the marketing department cannot decide what color the wheel is going to be.    (Their parallel efforts with introducing fire to the cavemen are similarly stymied by the fact that they cannot communicate well enough with them to organize a focus group to find out how the cavemen relate to fire.)

Now this is, of course, a parody, but it illustrates the concept Michael is talking about regarding making plans which are too detailed at the beginning.    I’m sure the cavemen would be impressed by the wheel no matter what color is turns out to be.

The strategy should be one where the solution emerges in a meaningful way.   You should have a GENERAL idea of which direction you are going towards.   Then, you develop a number of focus areas defined by a set of related opportunities that can fuel a line of products or hopefully a whole new business.    Michael refers to these focus areas as hunting grounds, and the key elements of a productive hunting ground are:

  • it is defined by a set of consumers or customers and a set of unmet needs
  • market gaps are observed where current players are not adequately addressing current and emerging needs
  • it is narrow enough and actionable enough to enable efficient focus of resources to develop and identify solutions
  • it is broad enough to encompass a variety of opportunities and not a single product solution

There are two elements of the process of finding success with a particular hunting ground.    One is making sure that the process is an emergent one, so that you use the startup as a sensing network that, like a dousing rod, gets closer and closer to a viable solution.

And the second element is making sure that the startup has an accurate signal about where the solution is.    This is done by focusing on

  • Who the customer is (articulating a clear definition)
  • What problem the customer faces (again, with clarity)

You need to get face to face with customers, which requires getting out of the building to TALK with them.   If you cannot find the customers you need for customer development interviews, it may be that may not exist in the numbers that you’re projecting on your spreadsheets.

In other words, customers are your first and foremost reality check on whether your dream is possible or not.

The next post will cover chapter 7, which goes more into the DEFINE phase of the collective disruption process.


In his book “Collective Disruption:   How Corporations & Startups Can Co-Create Transformative New Businesses,’ Michael Docherty lays out a vision of how established companies can create a strategy for innovation that includes partnering with startups, thereby enabling an “innovation ecosystem.”   This post is the fourth of ten reviewing the various chapters of his book in preparation for the Leadership Forum 2016 event put on by the Chicagoland chapter of the Project Management Institute on May 20th, 2016.

In the first part of his book , Michael explains the reason why open innovation is the recipe for creating innovation that is truly transformative, rather than just maintaining or expanding the core business.   In the second part of his book, he lays out his prescription for “collective disruption” as a way to achieve that open innovation ecosystem.

In the last chapter, Michael shows that corporate and entrepreneurial mindsets each have positive aspects which, if combined, could create a formidable framework called “collective disruption” for creating transformative innovation.   In this chapter, Michael goes into detail about the four phases involved in the collective disruption framework.

The four phases are:

  1. DISCOVER:  identify transformational opportunities relevant to your business.  Bring with a customer focus and then identify the key players and the networks.   You need to provide seed funding and resources for these activities.
  2. DEFINE:   define opportunities for an initial business opportunity through an iterative process, and use assessments to decide whether to explore these opportunities further or drop them.
  3. INCUBATE:    Apply a modified version of lean methodology which can be done in one of three ways–1) inside-in (integrated), 2) inside-out (accelerators), 3) outside-in (imbedded entrepreneurs).
  4. INTEGRATE:   Design new teams and structures that are both separate from and connected to the corporation.    These teams need to be separated to allow them to operate outside of the tight financial control of the current business, but they also need to be connected so that they eventually be absorbed into the existing corporate framework or spun off as something entirely new.

The next four chapters of his book discuss each of these four phases in turn.   The next post will cover the DISCOVER phase covered in chapter 6 of Michael Docherty’s book.